Who are you? I am Charita Jones, known as Momma Cherri, originally from a town on the outskirts of Philadelphia, called Wayne, Pennsylvania. I came over to London in '78 as Stage Manager for a gospel musical. When the show closed I sang in a band called Ray Shell and the Street Angels.
Ray left and we continued on as the Street Angels. We were the Spice Girls before they were, they ripped us off. Our style, our music, our characters… Why did you stay in England?
There was something about the place that felt like it was for me.
I had a different style about me that was more suited to London and England than America because I had my own look, hair all over the place, and was considered a punk before the word existed.
So when did you get around to opening your restaurant? We opened in 2001.
How did you end up in Brighton?
When I decided to do a restaurant I couldn't afford to buy premises in London. In 2000 Brighton and Hove became a city and I felt that it was the beginning of something that I wanted to get in on.
How did your restaurant end up being called Momma Cherri's?
When I was a child I was called Cherri because no one could pronounce Cherita and I wanted something that reflected a big bad Momma sort of a thing… So are you a Momma? Oh yeah… So what's a Momma? A Momma is someone that looks after the community - we look after the community and the family. It's a very positive thing to be a Momma.
Define Soul Food? Soul Food to me is food that comes from the heart, from the soul. It's based on what you have as opposed to what you have to go out and get. It's home-cooked food, and it's food that is about big hearty portions.
It dates back to the times of slavery and people having to work long hard hours, picking cotton or whatever. They needed food to sustain them and make them feel good about themselves when they came home at night. Also Soul Food's not spicy and should not be confused with Caribbean style cooking because it's not.
Does the best Soul Food come from the Southern States of the USA? Soul Food originally came from there but black people migrated all over America from the South and now you find fine Soul Food in New York, Chicago, LA… anywhere where there is a large black community.
After appearing on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares are you and Gordong still in touch? He came in January this year to look at the restaurant again. In the meantime we'd moved to bigger premises in the same street and went from 45 seats up to 110. We were in the shack, now we're in the big house.
Are you grateful to Gordong for his help? I'm extremely grateful.
Without his help I would probably have closed the restaurant.
What are the main things that you learnt from him about running a restaurant? That I needed to get out of the kitchen and hand over to a professional chef. Now I run my floor and my business. He also told me that I should do a cookbook. So I did.
Momma Cherri's Soul in a Bowl Cookbook is out now, published by Absolute Press, £20.00.